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Copernicus: Record global heat spell stretched to 12 months in May

The atmosphere is going through its warmest stretch ever measured as El Niño and climate change combine to wallop the planet. This May was the warmest one on record, according to the European Union’s climate change agency.  

(CN) — The planet's record-breaking heat streak extended to 12 months after May came in as the warmest ever recorded, the European Union's climate change monitor said Thursday.

Globally, last month was 0.65 degrees Celsius (1.17 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than average and the warmest May ever measured, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service. It was 0.19 C (0.34 F) warmer than the previous record set in May 2020.  

“The climate continues to alarm us — the last 12 months have broken records like never before,” said Samantha Burgess, the Copernicus director. 

Since June 2023, the planet experienced its hottest stretch, making last year the hottest year on record, Copernicus said. Over the past 12 months, the global temperature was 0.75 C (1.35 F) above the average for the industrial era and a whopping 1.63 C (2.93 F) above what scientists estimate the planet’s average temperature was before the advent of the 20th century’s massive fossil fuel burning. 

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, world leaders pledged to reduce carbon emissions to keep the planet from becoming 1.5 C (2.7 F) warmer than the pre-industrial age, but many scientists warn the planet is on track to surpass that mark. That threshold would be reached when global temperatures are that warm for many years in a row. Between 2014 and 2023, the global average temperature was 1.2 C (2.16 F) above the pre-industrial average, making it the warmest 10-year period on record, according to the United Nations.     

An El Niño weather cycle that emerged last spring, combined with global warming, is credited with supercharging the past 12-month stretch of global heat. El Niños typically bring warmer temperatures and more unpredictable weather.

Other factors are likely contributing to the higher atmospheric temperatures, including a massive underwater volcano eruption in Tonga in January 2022, an active solar cycle and cleaner shipping fuel regulations, scientists say.

But the accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses emitted by human activities is the main factor behind record-breaking temperatures, Copernicus said. 

“Until we reach net-zero global emissions the climate will continue to warm, will continue to break records, and will continue to produce even more extreme weather events,”  Burgess said in a statement. “If we choose to continue to add greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere then 2023/4 will soon look like a cool year.” 

This record stretch of heat may finally come to an end in the next few months because the El Niño cycle is dissipating. The World Meteorological Organization expects a La Niña pattern to return by the end of the year, bringing cooler temperatures to many parts of the planet. 

For now, though, parts of the globe are sweltering in dangerously hot temperatures. 

For several weeks, India has been enduring an extreme heat wave that brought record-breaking temperatures on Tuesday to the capital territory of Delhi, with highs hitting above 121 F. There were reports of numerous heat deaths.

Copernicus estimated this May was 1.52 C (2.73 F) warmer than what the planet’s temperature was prior to the industrial age and the burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels. The average temperature globally in May was 15.91 C (60.63 F). 

To make its calculations, the agency examines data from billions of weather stations around the planet and uses measurements it collects from a fleet of special satellites.  

It’s not just the planet’s air temperatures that are breaking records. Copernicus said sea surface temperatures have been the warmest ever recorded for the past 14 months in a row. 

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Environment, International, Science, Weather

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